Life on the Corner: The Moon-Eyed Beggars Tale
LIFE ON THE CORNER:
THE MOON EYED BEGGARíS TALE
by Robin Sharpe
Published by KALAYAAN PUBLICATIONS
Box 88495 Chinatown P.O.
Vancouver, B.C. V6A 4A7
© 1996 Robin Sharpe
Produced with no government or corporate funding whatsoever
for the boys of corner past
Also by Robin Sharpe:
- RRSP: Robin's Rude Songs and Poems
- PIPS: Politically Incorrect Poems and Songs
- RAAV: Recent Accumulations & Appropriated Voices
- Manilamanic: Vignettes, Vice and Verse, journals
- Rupert Unexpurgated, a novel
- Peterís Path, a novel
After the corrupt Marcos dictatorship was overthrown in the Peopleís Power Revolution of 1986 old time politics was restored, corruption was democratized, and human rights abuses increased.
Jun watches from his favourite perch on the exposed aggregate wall that almost surrounds the breadfruit tree at one end of the small plaza. The tree shades him by day and at night it gives him time to collect his things and move when it starts to rain. Occasionally he picks a leaf and marvels at its skin like texture and intricate shape. He keeps his head half turned away to conceal his moon eye, his blind, white, lidless eyeball, set in the scar tissue of the disfigured right side of his head. And as usual he has his withered arm tucked under his good one. It is early and the corner won't be busy until late afternoon. Evenings, when the bars, girlie bars and restaurants are full of customers and there are lots of tourists around is the best time for begging.
He can see his friend Rollet working the few tourists sitting near the sidewalk in the Aguilar Grande beer garden across Del Pilar. Jun wishes he was as good at begging as Rollet who knows many English words and a few in German. He always has some cigarettes or chewing gum in a pack that he can try to sell to the tourists and get to talk to them. He knows ways to make them laugh and like him, and give him money. And Jun knows and understands that the tourists also like Rollet because he's such a pretty young boy. His friend has even gone with tourists a couple of times and made lots of money. When Jun begs he tries to look sad and pitiful, it seems to work best for him, but he doesn't get anywhere near as much money as Rollet. A few times he's gotten money by staring at people with his moon eye. It only seems to work when there's no one else around and once a woman chased him and beat him with a stick. Jun wishes he could make the tourists happy so they would give him lots of money.
He sees Lyndon and Jimmy sitting with two tourists at the corner beer stand drinking Sprites. They're mabini boys. Lyndon is his friend sort of, Jun knows his mother Eleanor who has a shanty in the empty lot where the other beer garden burnt down. Lyndon is nice to Jun even giving him a few pesos when he has lots but doesn't like him hanging around. Lyndon's father was an American sailor which is why he's so tall for fifteen. Sometimes when the light shines on his face a certain way he even looks American. But he's never seen his father and his mother says she doesn't know where he is. Jimmy's not someone Jun likes. He's very vain about his appearance. This afternoon he's wearing a blue trimmed white, collared T-shirt with black baggy kneed designer jeans and pointy shoes. He claims the watch his foreign friend gave him cost over five thousand pesos. Jun is so far beneath a slob as to be invisible to him.
Then he sees Lyndon leave and a minute later one of the foreigners, a tall thin man with glasses, goes off in the same direction. He thinks it's the Mr. Tom foreigner Lyndon has mentioned. The older boys make a lot of money by going with the tourists to their hotels, and they get to wear nice shoes, have their hair styled and can buy soft drinks anytime. Jun used to count the number of times he'd had Coco-Colas and other American soft drinks but he's lost track, he thinks it's over fifty and that's not counting the discarded cans and bottles he's finished off.
Rollet tries to go with tourists, he was scared at first, and he's still too young to get in many hotels. Most of the tourists seem to prefer older boys in their teens anyway. He could do with better clothes too. Rollet would like to meet one of those foreigners that send you money every month like some boys have. And maybe take you on a holiday to Australia or Switzerland. Jun wishes he could go with tourists, he's fourteen. He knows he's too ugly, and tourists don't go with beggars anyway, but he dreams about it sometimes. He imagines himself walking past the guard at the desk of a tourist hotel, and the guard would smile because the foreigner would say it was alright, and going upstairs to the room of the tourist, the idea seems so exciting. He would be very happy and do things for the tourist because they don't hurt you and give you money.
Jun tries to keep his eye out for regular givers. He doesn't like to miss them as most of his money comes from them and drunks. They are also more likely to listen to special pleadings. Sometimes he tells them he needs medicine and gets extra money. He spies George the Armenian who's usually good for at least two pesos drinking at the far side of the corner beer stand. Jun affects his limp as he crosses the plaza. He finds George talking to Jimmy but doesn't want to butt in and annoy him. Jun waits, and while his English is not very good, he's pretty sure that George is promising Jimmy three hundred pesos for something. Three hundred pesos! Jimmy turns to hail a taxi. Jun thrusts himself in George's path and tries to plead his hunger. Not now, the regular giver shrugs as they get in the taxi.
Still, he has enough for rice, and he would like a caramint candy, his favourite. He counts his money again, three pesos and eighty centavos. He could buy one order of plain rice and two candies at the mama san's down by the lane. He makes sure his big sleeping cardboard is well hidden behind the concrete hollow blocks at the side of the wall before he leaves because he doesn't want it stolen or peed on. First, he decides he will check out the back of the Angeles Fast Food. If the manager, Dominic is working he will sometimes give Jun a big bag of leftovers for a peso. Sometimes even for free if he gets really hungry. They say Dominic used to a mabini boy. Before he goes to the door he checks out the garbage, once he found a whole chicken breast in the can, but now there's only some fish heads and half eaten chicken wings and rice. He wipes a wing on his shorts but after trying it he tosses it back. It doesn't taste right. He looks in the back door but can't see Dominic. Then he sees a cook lifting a rack of deep fried prawns out of a caldron. Jun shudders, nothing scares him more than boiling oil.
Boiling oil, that's what cost him his eye and disfigured and crippled his entire right side. Although his family was very poor and he was hungry a lot, his early life in the uplands of southern Negros seems like a lost paradise to him now. He loved his little sisters, especially little Gemma, the one his mother almost let die because she had a twisted foot and there wasn't much food.
One day, the rain stops, Jun picks Gemma up from the slat bed in their tiny hut and kisses her. He likes that and she always grabs his nose. Then he carries her across the wet, hard yellow clay to the ravine with Louisa toddling after him. Sometimes he carries both of them but Louisa is getting heavy now that she's two. They like it best after the rain because there's a small muddy stream to play in and they can slide down the slope in places on the slippery mud. On the other side of the ravine is a tree with a ripe papaya that Jun has been watching for several days. It's not their tree but Jun decides to pick it anyway. He shimmies up the trunk and cuts it off with his bolo, and it almost gets smashed when it falls. He cuts the papaya into sections and shares it with his sisters. Jun thinks it like a party as they sit with their feet in the water and eat. He makes them say 'please' and 'thankyou' when they want more. But then Louisa starts spitting the seeds at Gemma and then both start spitting, squishing mud and rubbing it all over each other. They get mud and seeds in their hair and Jun knows his mother will be angry when she gets back from planting camote in the burned patches up the hillside.
He remembers many things about life in the hamlet like peeling camotes and feeding the skins to the piglet they tried to raise. He remembers when they had batteries for the tiny radio and his mother would hold him on her lap and rock him to the music. And he remembers the first time he saw electric lights and television. And he remembers when the New Peoples Army cadres came to their hamlet and his father was for them. He said that they would get back the land that was stolen from his father by the lawyers for the plantation owners. After that his father was away much of the time but when he was home he was happier and played with Jun more. The last time he saw his father was a few months after his sixth birthday. They hiked down the trail and took a bus to town. His father bought him candies and a brand new red T-shirt. He watched TV at this house and the next day they went home but his father had to go back into the hills.
Still no sign of Dominic. He could walk around to the front to see if he's working, but he's in no hurry. He leans against the building and watches the boys outside the barangay outpost half a block away up the lane. They are probably trying to get one of their buddies released. Sometimes the barangay captain wants over a hundred pesos bail. Then a couple of boys arrive with a foreigner, a big fat German he's seen drinking at the corner. The foreigner goes in and a minute later comes out with Ricky, a pretty boy of fifteen. The barangay captain, Capitan Banidoso is doing well today, soon he and half the tanods, local paracops with limited powers, will be drunk. Ricky is very popular with the tourists, he tells them he is a tourist guide. A while ago he spent a week up in Baguio with a foreigner and they've taken him, and maybe a friend too, to Puerto Galera and Boracay, even flying there.
Finally he sees Dominic, and a minute later he comes back with a plate of rice and curried beef, it looks like the customer hardly touched it, and puts it in a plastic bag. Then he adds two drumsticks which still have lots of meat on them. Dominic wants two pesos but Jun claims he only has one peso and thirty centavos and he gets the whole bag anyway. Jun washes his hands and has a big drink from the tap by the door before he returns to his perch. He plans to save some of the food for later but his friend Bongie, who can't talk and can hardly make any sounds, comes over with some candies and he shares the food with him. They gobble up the food, Jun picks out the tiny hot peppers, he doesn't even like curry, and gives them to Bongie who makes an eager whistling noise and funny faces as he chews them. Jun sucks on a candy, it's a caramint his favourite. Then they look at a komik book. Dominic and Edgardo, a barangay tanod, lend them to Jun one at a time. Bongie can't read komik captions but he likes to act out the pictures, make strange sounds in his throat and imitate the expressions. Sometimes they both take on characters and mime the parts. After a drink at the tap behind Angeles Fast Food they go to work.
While Jun's working the tourists in the beer garden from the sidewalk he sees that Rollet is now sitting inside with two foreigners, probably Germans Jun thinks. He watches them closely for a minute, the men seem very nice, not drunk and Rollet looks happy. Maybe he will go with them. On TV Jun has seen inside the fancy hotels and how foreigners live. He believes that if Heaven were like a five star hotel religion would be a good idea. No luck at the beer garden, still early, so he goes on to an open front restaurant, picks out a foreigner eating by himself and stares at his plate with a plaintive expression. The man is just reaching in his pocket when a waitress comes and makes him move along. Nobody's looking so he spits on the sign advertising their Espesyal, pancit canton. Farther down Del Pilar there are two women with babies begging so he dodges between the cars and jeepneys to the other side of the street. He exaggerates his limp and expression, and holds his hand in front of people. Most avoid him but one tourist, not wanting to step off the curb gets flustered and gives him a peso.
He decides to kneel in front of Maxine's, a popular American style restaurant, he twists his bad arm and bends it back so it looks more crippled than it is and freezes his face in a weak pathetic expression. He can sometimes remain almost motionless for an hour, get inside himself and hardly be aware of the world outside. But his eye wanders to the newspaper vendor just across the narrow side street and Jun can just make out the headlines on a Tagalog tabloid. 'NPA ambush kills 17 soldiers in Negros'. He cannot read the rest of the article where the regional commander of the Armed Forces Philippines, Colonel Makamatay vows to avenge his fallen comrades, nor does he really need to. Jun fantasizes his father charging through a battlefield mowing down soldiers with his fire spitting AK-47. He sees him bring down a helicopter gunship with his shoulder launched rocket. He imagines him in hand to hand combat with Colonel Makamatay slowly forcing the blade back until it punctures the colonel's throat. But then Jun knows his father is probably dead, maybe even killed by the colonel himself. It haunts him.
He hears shooting and someone passing says that soldiers have surrounded the hamlet. When he peers out the woven palm flap he sees soldiers with guns marching people down from higher up the hill. His mother pulls him back but two soldiers come to their hut and make everybody get out. He carries little Gemma, Aunty Clara has to help grandma who can hardly walk and they won't let Louisa bring her doll. They make everybody gather by the mayore's compound and separate the women and children from the men and older boys. People are made to stand in rows with soldiers guarding them. Some soldiers drag the old mayore, and four other men including his two sons out of his hut. They bring them before their leader. Somebody whispers that he's Colonel Makamatay, and that he's killed over a hundred men. He's a big arrogant looking man in fatigues with his signature bandolier draped around his neck like some honourary honour or lei. A huge, battered, wide brimmed U.S. Army hat from cavalry days decorated with blue feathers sits squarely on his head. He points to the mayore and his companions, "These men are your enemies. They have betrayed you. We have come to restore freedom and democracy... " Soldiers make the men kneel and the colonel reaches inside his jacket to a holster at his hip and pulls out a silver colt 45 pistol, richly engraved with a wild west motif and he places the muzzle to the back of the mayore's neck and shoots him. One of his sons, a large man tries to get up and run but soldiers club him with their rifle butts until he stops moving. He may already be dead when the colonel, cursing him fires again. Then with a certain flair for what he is doing, people, and his own troops are watching, he shoots the other three. "If any of you know of more godless Communists tell me now.... You have nothing to fear. I offer you my protection." People are scared, several others have been shot trying to escape. "The new government is concerned about the welfare of the people. Admittedly there were injustices in the past but now freedom and democracy have been restored. The Government has a resettlement program. Imagine, your own piece of land with a certificate..." Jun looks around holding on to his mother's hand and little Gemma. Nobody does anything and then this hooded man with two soldiers beside him walks up and down the rows of men. Jun notices that the hooded man is wearing a new pair of blue Adidas. The two teenage sons of their nearest neighbour are taken away and then a few others he doesn't know and shots are heard. The boys' sister screams hysterically. Jun knows her, her name is Adela and she used to take care of him sometimes when he was little.
Then they start burning the huts. Some people are allowed to take things out first and the soldiers take some things too. They march people down the trail to the river where they have to wait in the hot sun until more people arrive from another hamlet they burnt. People are thirsty but the soldiers only let one person at a time to go to the river. Gemma is crying and Jun tries everything he knows to soothe her. Then everybody is marched down the trail to the road where they are made to get on trucks. Near the town they stop at an old school surrounded by a high fence topped with barbed wire and with armed guards around the yard. As they enter an officer tells them it's for their protection. Then it rains hard, everything becomes mud and all of them can just stand inside the building. Jun and his mother look everywhere for Aunty Clara and grandma but they can't find them anywhere. Later they build sheds and people make little huts with what they can find. Some boys sneak out to get some boards they can see and the guards shoot one of them.
Then the missionaries come, Jun is sure two of them are Americans because they're so tall and pale. One has this yellow hair that is like gold in the sun. He admires their beautiful suits, some the colour of the sky, and their black shoes which are shiny when everyone else's are dusty. Colonel Makamatay announces that the missionaries have come to help them and tell them the truth about Communism. He says that now that democratic elections have been held people should rally to support the government and help destroy the godless Communist rebels. Those who surrender and turn in their arms will be given land.
One of the Americans can speak in the local dialect and says that Jesus is the way, the only true path and He will show them the way to peace and prosperity. Jun has heard of Jesus before and what the missionary says sounds like a good idea. He gets the idea that prosperity is good times and he knows that means rice, rum for the men, dresses for the women and candies. The other missionaries nod assent and the colonel applauds loudly. Jun doesn't think the missionary liked that. Then they give all the children books with pictures of Jesus and scenes from the Bible and put up a big poster of Jesus chasing Communists out of a map of the Philippines. Then all the children are supposed to sing these hymns but most cannot read the words and Jun just pretends to sing. Afterwards one of the other missionaries speaks to the children one by one and tells them that if they know of any Communists to tell him or the camp manager. Jun knows he means people like his father. All the children get candies and chewing gum.
Some of the grown ups don't like the missionaries, they're angry and want the priest. Jun can remember the old priest coming to the hamlet a few times. The camp manager says that a priest is coming soon, a very good priest, but people want the old one. The manager tells people that the colonel says they have to have a new priest and Jun hears people saying the old one has gone over to the NPA. Jun likes the picture book and pretends he's one of the little boys with Jesus. The missionary tells a story about how the boy Jesus chased people out of the place where there was a lot of money, and didn't get any himself. But it wasn't lawyers. Adela shows him how to pick out the words for Jesus, God, Heaven, good and evil. It only takes him a day to learn the alphabet.
The colonel announces that there is going to be a school for the children so they can learn to be good citizens and that they should regard him as their friend. He is personally going to donate a hundred pesos for school supplies. His adjutant divides the children into groups and they are invited into the colonel's office in the nearby Integrated National Police camp. Jun is with about six other boys around his age. The colonel talks to the boys and shakes their hands. He tells the them that his hat was given to his father by an American general and shows them a hole he says was made by a Muslim rebel in Mindinao before he shot him. He also lets them touch his Colt 45 and tells them he has killed over a hundred rebels with it. Then he shows the boys a newspaper picture of himself that he's had mounted on plywood and plasticized. He is standing bandoliered holding a submachine gun with rows of corpses arranged at his feet like trophies. This is what happens to Communists he tells them. June looks at the picture, most don't look like grown men, and hopes no one sees how scared he is.
Then children start to get sick, they just keep dirtying themselves and some get big red rashes. And then they start to die, two and three a day, and there is still no priest or coffins and people get angry. The missionaries say they will bury the children but some people refuse and a fight starts and the soldiers come in with clubs and beat people. Then there isn't enough food. Jun hears stories that the rice got wet and went bad, and that the soldiers have taken all the canned food the relief agency brought in and sold it. Then his little sisters, Gemma and Louisa become sick and his mother has a hard time taking care of them because she's going to have another baby soon and there is only some corn and comote to feed them. Jun holds little Gemma, his favourite and kisses her playfully but nothing will make her smile or giggle, she just gets worse. That is when he decides to steal some food from the camp kitchen in the old school. He has to be careful because the guards who hang around there will beat him if he gets caught. He can smell the chicken frying and through the doorway and see more cut up waiting to go in the pot. Then when the guards start arguing and shoving the man who's brought a pig to sell, he dashes inside and grabs as much chicken as he can put under his shirt. But one of men inside way over by the sink sees him and comes after him. Jun bangs into the table the stove's on bringing the boiling oil down on him. He cannot think about the horror he feels.
He shivers and looks around, there are few people in Maxine's so he makes his way back to the plaza. In just over an hour he's collected five pesos and forty five centavos most of it from well dressed Filipinos leaving the restaurant. When he returns to the plaza Lyndon's mother Eleanor calls to him. She asks if he has a cigarette, he hasn't and hasn't smoked for days except for a few butts which he doesn't like to smoke. But he would really like a cigarette himself as he's still upset from thinking about the time of his accident and she does him many favours. He decides to buy two Winstons and have one for himself. He sits on his perch and carefully inhales so he won't cough. He closes his eye.
The infirmary's attached to the shed where the clinic is. Jun's pain leaves him no room for thinking. Fear, horror, anger, self pity whelm through his mind. He's aware of a tube in his left arm which they say is feeding him but he doesn't know what's under the bandages covering his entire right side. He sees his mother, she's crying and looks ill. He becomes aware in a vague sort of way that his sister Louisa has died. And there're flies, flies everywhere, flies on his eye and he can't do anything. The pain, he tries to say a prayer for Gemma but the pain is everything. He awakes very thirsty and a nurse gives him some water. She says it's clean. He's delirious for days, he remembers Adela being there and giving him something to drink. Then one day his mind seems clear and he sees that the tube is gone and he tries to talk to the nurse but she walks away. He feels helpless, hopeless and hungry. She brings him some water but ignores his request for something to eat. Later he asks her again and she looks very ashamed and says she has to ask the doctor. He becomes afraid that they are just going to let him starve, he calls and calls for his mother but she never comes. Then Adela comes again and he manages to tell her. She brings him some rice soup he slurps it up with a tube. Jun asks about his mother and Gemma but Adela isn't ready to tell him that his sister's dead and that his mother died giving birth to a baby that did not live. Everyday, sometimes twice she comes and feeds him and he slowly gets better.
Jun learns to get around using a stick but most of the time he just sits outside the lean-to they made for him at the side of Adela's family hut. He stares at nothing and hardly speaks. The missionaries, including the American who speaks the dialect visit him occasionally but he pretends they are not there. The new priest ignores him and spends most of his time with the camp manager and the guards. Sometimes his mind goes back to the hamlet and he wonders about his father. But then he remembers the soldiers coming and thinks about Colonel Matamatay. He gets angry and fantasizes killing him. This makes him feel better briefly but then he knows he can't and his good eye weeps. He is profoundly depressed. He keeps thinking about things he doesn't want to think about. It is only gradually with Adela showing him how letters make words and learning checkers from a lonely old man does he begin to talk and move about much. He learns that seventy children, almost half the younger ones died since coming to the camp but that donors are providing more medicine now and there's enough to eat. He hears that there's still fighting in the uplands and people won't be going back until after the rainy season, and some say never. Once he hears the colonel boast that his men wiped out the NPA unit his father was in. He hears from others that there was a battle and many of the older teenagers and young men he knew in the hamlet were killed but nobody knows for sure about his father.
He decides to save some of the cigarette for later. The plaza is starting to get busy, Lyndon's mother is working her charms on an older foreigner. The man doesn't appear too interested but he's bought her a pack of Marlboroughs and a beer. Many years ago they say she used to be a hostess at Tinkerbells and once made five hundred dollars American in one night. At the corner Mario's drinking a Fanta and talking with a balding middle aged tourist. Jun once heard him say that he'd never go with another Filipino because that would mean you're queer. Also, he claimed his girlfriend wouldn't like it if he Filipino friends. The foreigner finishes his beer and leaves, and half a minute later Mario follows him from the other side of the street.
Bongie comes back and signs he didn't have much luck and mimes out an encounter with a tourist who gave him ten centavos. He holds his head up haughtily and extends his hand... and how he tossed it back to him, he flicks his head... and then threw another thirty centavos at him, three flicks and he covers his head like he's protecting it. Jun and other boys around begin laughing hilariously. The foreigner got very angry, Bongie glares and shakes his fists... started to chase him... and fell down. Bongie trips convincingly and everybody breaks up.
They buy an order of plain rice at the mama san's and she gives them a dollop of bagaong, a fermented fish paste to flavour it. They are not quite finished the rice when Rollet arrives. He tells them he had barbecued pork, rice, ice cream and a Pepsi and got twenty pesos from the Germans but he couldn't get in their hotel. He told them the name of a good hotel and hopes that maybe tomorrow he can go with one of them.
The three of them head down to the square facing Manila Bay in front of Malate Church buying a bottle of poly for ten pesos on the way. They sit down at the base of one of the monumental sculptures and each pours some poly on a rag and inhales the fumes. Jun loves poly, he doesn't feel afraid when he does it, and it seems he's been scared all his life. He's only heard of shabu, or ice, and once he tried something they said was ganja, but it didn't do anything, and he doesn't like beer. But if Jun works hard and works at it he can get into some solvent most days now. He likes being not scared.
They stare at the gaudy sunset over Manila Bay and the world seems beautiful and magical. Then Jun, liberated by the solvent dances around the base of a statue singing words he doesn't understand from a popular American song he has heard on the juke box. He grabs Bongie and swings him around in some clumsy parody of ballroom dancing and they laugh and giggle and stagger around like they are drunk. Then they climb the big fountain and Bongie pulls out his titi, plays with it and waves at people. The others join in whanking, laughing and shouting. A couple of drunk foreigners cheer and encourage them by tossing them a few pesos. But others are not amused and they are soon chased away by irate locals. Jun who can't run as fast as the others almost gets caught.
Bongie suggests they go to Eleanor's place, where nobody will look. His gestures make the meaning clear. They will be safer there if the Malate tanods come looking. They find Eleanor washing some clothes in a large pan. She washes for a few people around the corner including some of the tanods who leave her alone. Sometimes she washes for poor foreigners and whenever she can she entertains them in their room or her shanty. Bongie steals soap for her and she lets him wash his, and sometimes Jun's clothes there. She also has ointment and bandages and took care of Jun when he had a series of big canker sores on his legs. This evening Eleanor's worried about Lyndon. Edgardo, who's a familiar visitor at Eleanor's shanty, saw him get in a car with two strange men and that was many hours ago.
The boys are still buzzed from the solvent and want to sniff more but Eleanor is very upset. Jun recalls seeing Lyndon go with the tall man with glasses. She knows him, Mr. Tom an Englishman, and says he is a good man, he gives Lyndon good money and has talked about giving him money to go to school although Lyndon doesn't want to go. He wouldn't hurt Lyndon. It was Filipinos who took him. The boys say they will keep an eye out for Lyndon, load up their rags with poly and head towards the plaza.
They huddle around the corner of the wall from Jun's perch. It's out of the way but it stinks because a lot of people pee there. There's not much poly left, but enough to get high for a while. Jun's not into doing much, he's tired and thoughts just trip through his mind. Eleanor, he likes her, he likes her the best of all the grown ups he knows. She is one of the few people he doesn't feel self conscious with. She occasionally gives him clothes, one's that Lyndon's outgrown and leftovers from her washing business. She cheers him up when he gets badly depressed, she reminds him of Adela. Not like his Aunty Ana whom he'd hate if he'd ever liked her to begin with.
It seems like a good idea, that's what he's told, not that he cares much at the time about anything. The camp manager tells him he has contacted his Aunt Ana in Sampaloc, Manila and a few weeks later when two other children are going to Manila, the uncle of one agrees to take Jun to his aunt's place. The aunt has not been told that Jun is half blind, crippled and badly disfigured, and whatever plans she may have had for him she forgets. With his handicaps he's a lot of extra trouble and she already has three of her own children, all several years older, and her mother in the tiny two room dwelling inside a big house that has been subdivided. Jun has to sleep in the corridor beside the C.R. and one of his jobs is to keep it clean.
It takes him a long time to get used to things as only his aunty speaks his dialect and she doesn't have much time for him. Everyone else and the street speak only Tagalog. Sometimes his cousins make fun of him and other times they ignore him completely. Jun feels so lonely and helpless. Then they say he is a monster and has an evil eye. Jun has tried to forget his other eye but this makes him think. One day he lets his two eyes meet in the mirror, and stares. At first he can only look so long but then he begins to study every detail of the contorted, discoloured scar tissue surrounding the pale ugly orb of his eyeball. He feels stronger. He finds he can scare some little kids with his blank blind eye and he thinks more. Using a mirror he starts practising evil and sinister expressions, and he finds he can make his eye look scarier, and it works better. He tells other children, older ones too, he can see anitos and other spirits with what he calls his Moon Eye. He implies his moon eye has special powers and sometimes he almost believes it does. The other children treat him with more respect and he knows his moon eye bothers some grown ups too. But he has no friends.
He hangs out on the street in front of his house like most boys. He likes to watch the older boys play basketball, they're not as mean, but except for the very young ones the other kids won't have much to do with him. He spends a lot of time watching the men play cards and chess, a common game on his street. He runs errands for them buying cigarettes, soft drinks and rum from the little sari-sari stores. They often give him a few centavos for candies. He learns pusoy, he can just hold the cards in his bad hand, and soon wins consistently. And he starts to learn chess. In the evenings he watches TV and learns about a lot of things he's never dreamed of. It's a friendly world for the lonely and for Jun it's a school he attends every chance he gets.
After almost a year when he can speak Tagalog he starts school and learns to read in a few months. He discovers komik books and spends what little money he can get his hands on buying more. He likes the scary, evil monsters in komiks, they are like heros to him. He imagines himself struggling with and overcoming the powers of good, vanquishing costumed superheroes, WHAM BANG SPLAT. He destroys entire cities, pollutes rivers and fills the sky with noxious, stinking black clouds. Being evil doesn't seem to be all that bad an idea, it makes him feel stronger even if the good guys win in the end. Evil doesn't die. But he is weak and usually ends up crying, frustrated in his hatred. He also fantasizes rescuing pretty little girls from infernos and hiding children, always beautiful children from invading armies. Somehow he wouldn't be ugly anymore. But he knows he is ugly. He secretly spies on other children, especially the pretty ones wishing he were beautiful too. They don't know how beautiful and fortunate they are, or they wouldn't be so mean to him. One day Aunty Ana catches him making scary faces in her mirror and asks Jun if he weren't ugly enough already.
He trades komiks, starts buying and selling them and builds up a collection which helps him make a few friends among the boys in the street. His life becomes less miserable but he's never accepted into any of the boys' barkadas or social gangs because of his deformities. Except for school he's afraid to go very far because he always gets taunted by other kids. His life at home remains unhappy, Aunty Ana regards him as a burden and says he should be in a home for cripples. Then after about two years Aunty Ana meets Emilio, a tricycle taxi driver and he moves in.
One day Emilio's upset, as matter of fact a policemen stopped him, found his license was not in order and demanded two hundred pesos, everything he had. As he enters their cramped home Jun is standing in the sala half watching TV, and Emilio smacks him across the good side of his head as if it were just a natural thing to do. Jun gets as far out of the way as fast as he can. He's very scared of Emilio because he's always hitting him and telling him how useless he is. This time Emilio says he's had enough. His Aunty makes a plea for him, the family thing. Emilio reminds her that she wasn't told about how screwed up the kid was and that the kid won't be keeping the family line going anyway. The three of them go in Emilio's tricycle and head down to Manila's big, central city park, Luneta, officially called Rizal Park. Kids love it, there's so much to do. Aunty Ana and Emilio take Jun between them and walk him over to a huge pool with painted concrete islands forming a model of the Philippines. Jun is confused, but he is also impressed, he's never seen anything like it before. His aunty, over Emilio's objections gives Jun one hundred pesos, a sum unknown to him before. Emilio tells him that if he comes back to Sampaloc he will get such a beating that he won't know his good side from his bad. They do not wave goodbye.
The solvent's long gone, Bongie is dozing, Rollet's wandered off, and Jun has a headache. He still has a few pesos and while he should maybe eat he decides to see if he can score something for his pain. Finding nothing around the corner he makes his way to Eleanor's, she usually has some Tylenols if not 292's which he really likes. Edgardo the tanod is there and Lyndon is back but something's the matter. He's sobbing while his mother tries to comfort him. Two plainclothes policemen he thinks, they showed him their badges, forced him to set up Mr. Tom. They threatened and beat him, and finally pulled down his pants and held a lit cigarette to him. He signed a piece of paper, he doesn't know what it said and then he had to take them back to Mr. Tom's where they threatened to arrest him. Did he know the legal penalties for raping a minor? Lyndon was held there while the other cop took Mr. Tom to a money changer where he had to cash two thousand dollars worth of traveller's cheques. The policemen thanked Lyndon for his cooperation and insisted that he take fifty pesos for his expenses. Afterwards Mr. Tom said he wasn't angry at Lyndon but he's flying back to England as soon as he can and Lyndon doesn't think he'll be getting the money he'd promised to send him. Mr. Tom was the best foreigner Lyndon ever met, he really liked him and he feels bad about him being ripped off. Jun feels sorry for Lyndon for the first time.
Bongie who's become a shineboy, or more accurately using two tins of shoe polish and a few rags as props for his begging, comes back from a tour of the beer garden with almost one hundred and twenty pesos. It's not clear exactly what happened. He shined a man's shoes and got one hundred pesos, but whether this was a legitimate gratuity, an accidental overpayment or a case of Bongie going to get change, and not returning with it, is in doubt. Anyway Bongie is bouncing excitedly and seems anxious to spend it. They set off for the skating rink in Luneta, stopping to buy soft drinks and some Cheezies on the way. It's only Jun's fourth and Rollet's second time to skate and by the end of the half hour Jun finds he can't keep up with Rollet. Soon he'll be as good as Bongie. And Jun's bad leg has been overworked so he decides to watch while his friends renew their skate rentals. He splurges on a Winston and carefully inhales. He recalls the first time he saw the park after his aunt and Emilio dumped him off.
His aunt tells him that he'll be better off in the park. People will take care of him, and besides he has one hundred pesos, far more than he's ever had before. Jun keeps going, gets caught up with strangers crossing busy roads. He's drawn towards huge fountains whose jets go through cycles rising and falling as the colours of the lights change. He stares in amazement. Farther on he comes to the Rizal monument which as even he knows marks the spot where the Spaniards executed the great national hero, Jose Rizal. He is fascinated by the honour guard, rigid as toy soldiers, who every few minutes shift places with precision movements. He imagines he has a special gun which would shoot through a guard and he would remain standing motionless for a minute before he fell over. He crosses another main road and goes down by the harbour. The sun is low and he shields his eye to look out over Manila Bay and sees the mountains of Bataan which he's never noticed before. He sees some boys his own age on the rocks by the water where they have been swimming and they call to him. He wants to join them but he knows they would make fun of him when they see how deformed he is. He doesn't know how to swim either. Jun walks back the other way turning away to conceal his moon eye and the disfigured side of his head from people passing by. He's hungry and buys a Coke and a tiny burger at this restaurant where there's a big banyan tree with roots hanging from the branches. He crosses another busy road and there is a big illuminated globe of the world he didn't notice before and people on roller skates making their way around. He's never seen so many people skating before going round and round the big globe.
He takes out his money and buys a candy from a small, funny faced vendor boy, sits on the low fence and watches the skaters. The vendor boy who's seen his tiny fortune sits beside him balancing his little tray on his lap. He looks at Jun with an odd, sort of twisted expression, makes strange sounds and hands Jun a card that says his name is Bernardo "Bongie" Bastos and he's a mute but Jun doesn't understand all of it. Jun tells him his name and pointing at the card, sounds out `Bongie'. The boy is very pleased and excitedly gestures that they should rent skates... only fifteen pesos each and Jun goes with him to the counter even though he's never tried to skate before. Bongie helps him tie the laces when he sees that Jun finds it difficult and he steadies Jun when he attempts to skate. Jun has never tried anything athletic for years and is delighted when he is able to go a few feet without falling down. Bongie takes off skating around the illuminated globe, backwards, forwards, zipping in between other skaters, showing off his skill. Jun falls, and falls again scraping his knee but he wants more than anything to skate. Bongie comes back and shows him how to push and stay up, and after a while Jun makes it all around the circuit only falling down twice. After Bongie gives him two more candies and they go to a Burger Machine and Jun buys burgers.
Jun follows Bongie into the back of a dingy store where he turns in his vendor's tray and gives the man the money for the candies he's sold. They wander around in Ermita for a while looking in the windows of expensive stores and restaurants. Later Bongie shows him where they can sleep in this area that's fenced off for the flamingos on display. They have to get up early because the zoo keeper comes around and might call the police. After breakfast and buying a mango to share Jun has practically no money left. Bongie leaves to pick up his tray and get more candies to sell.
Jun wanders around, everything is so strange and there are things he's never even seen on TV. He tries talking to some of the squatters camped along a boulevard and watches men play golf beside the walls of Intramuros. He comes to the Pasig River and watches all the garbage and clumps of water hyacinths float by. He sees lots of boys but is afraid to talk to them. He continues along the river past parked trucks, industrial sheds, dusty yards and more squatter camps. Again he tries to talk to people but few bother to reply and most seem to think he's a beggar. He becomes despondent and barely glances when someone points out the Malaca(ang and tells him the new democratically elected president lives there. He spends his last centavos on a glass of buko at a stand where they speak his dialect. They at least talk to him for a few minutes and he feels better for a while. Later when it's not as hot Jun makes his way back to Luneta and watches the skaters. He's hungry and wishes he hadn't spent all his money. He hopes to see Bongie, maybe he has money, they could eat and then go skating. And then he sees Bongie begging pointing at his belly and showing people his card. Jun finds Bongie's very sad. His gestures and expressions explain that someone knocked him down... he fought or hit someone... his tray got smashed... he lost most of his candies. He shows Jun the three candies he has left, it looks like they've been stepped on, and he lets Jun have one. Jun tries to suggest they go to the store where he gets his candy but Bongie shakes his head and indicates that the man there might beat him.
Bongie is also hungry and thirsty. He checks the garbage cans and finds some unfinished soft drinks which he drinks but Jun doesn't want any. Bongie shrugs and gestures why not? He approaches a well dressed couple holding out his card. Jun watches and after Bongie gets a few coins he tries too without any success. Bongie tries to explain how to beg and has him stand outside the McDonald's on United Nations Avenue where people coming out almost have to bump into him. He gets seven pesos before the staff come out and make him move. They go down to another restaurant where Bongie peers in the windows by the booths and stares at the food people are eating looking hungry and pleading with his eyes. He explains it's best to pick people who are almost finished. Jun tries too but his moon eye makes people uncomfortable and they avoid him, but they soon have twenty pesos mostly because this drunk Australian tourist gives Bongie ten. They have rice and share an order of chicken at a cheap carindera.
Over the following days Bongie shows Jun around, sometimes they steal rides on jeepneys, and they wander all over Quiapo, Santa Cruz, Chinatown, Divisoria and Ermita. But it's hard to beg as other beggars drive them away from their territory and in some places there are supposed to be syndicates that control the beggars and you have hand over most of your money to them. Often they get very hungry and go through garbage cans but the best ones by restaurants are usually picked over already. Bongie also shows him how to steal from stores and stands but Jun doesn't want to try because he can't run fast.
Their clothes become filthy and their skin caked black, and he's getting sores. Jun doesn't mind being a bit dirty, but he suddenly feels this is too much and it bothers him. He tells Bongie, who looks a bit cleaner, with sounds and gestures he wants to bathe and wash clothes. They are learning to converse and at times Jun feels he can talk to Bongie about all sorts of things. There's a church in Ermita... where you can wash and shower... but... for ten pesos... but for free... you can wash in the sea, but... some things are not as nice as you'd like.
Twenty minutes later they hop down to the rocks past the shanties on the little beach near the American Embassy. They strip naked and stand in the polluted waves washing their clothes with soap Bongie lifted on the way. Bongie sees the full extent of his friend's disfigurement, stares and then in a moment of empathy hugs him. And Jun sees how beautiful little Bongie's body is and hugs him back. Both boys feel a surge of joy. Their embrace entertains the lingering eyes of foreigners passing by on the promenade above.
They walk arms around each other's shoulders along the Roxas Boulevard promenade letting the seabreeze dry their clothes. They feel they are as brothers now, bonded to each other eternally, or for as long as boys eight and ten can conceive.
Jun must have fallen asleep too. It is quite late when he awakes, most of the people in the plaza are sleeping and the mama san's is shuttered. He's thirsty and a bit hungry and wanders over to the back of the Angeles Fast Food and has a drink at the tap. There's nothing interesting in the garbage. He wishes he still had some money and could buy some mami noodles at the corner beer stand which never closes. On his way back he finds an almost full bottle of beer sitting on one of the planters. He doesn't like it particularly but Bongie loves the stuff. Bongie's awake when he returns and eagerly drinks the beer. They lay out their sleeping cardboards and listen to the dull throbbing music from the bar across Del Pilar.
Bongie sees three boys pushing a loaded scavenging cart along the deserted street and nudges Jun, gesturing. He's asking why they don't get a pushcart and go scavenging again. Jun would like to, but where would they get a cart? Roberto, whom they had worked for, had made his own starting with only the wheels, but Jun can't do much more than hold a cigarette or bottle of poly in his right hand. He has to eat and do everything else with his left which is shameful. Wheels are expensive, Roberto had borrowed money from a tourist to get his. Bongie goes back to sleep and Jun finds half a cigarette he's hidden and lights it. He recalls the time when he and Bongie worked for Roberto as the happiest since his accident. He wonders what happened to Roberto, he once took jeepneys to Tondo to see his cousin but he wouldn't talk to him. Maybe Roberto is dead, he feels very sad and his eye weeps.
It's just after he bathes in the sea for the first time and he and Bongie are strolling blissfully along the seafront promenade on Roxas Boulevard. Just before the Cultural Center they meet Roberto, who's sixteen. His pushcart has been overturned with his scavengings dumped, some being blown away by the seabreeze. His little helper, about Bongie's size, isn't able to catch much of it. In a rare moment of his own openness to others, perhaps inspired by his new feelings for Bongie, Jun simply helps the older boy put his cart right and gather the flimsy plastic bags he'd had on top. And Bongie joins in helping.
Jun's been in the habit of using his dialect with Bongie, he can't hear anyway, at least not like that, and he hardly hears it anymore and enjoys its sounds. And he's just sounded out what amounts to, "That wasn't much work." and Roberto's eyes light up, and he answers in easy Ilongo, "But it was very appreciated. Thankyou provincemate." only it's a lot warmer in the dialect. Roberto explains that a policeman upset his cart because he hasn't paid tong for a week because he has problems. Jun listens sympathetically. Roberto can tell they are hungry and he has food, food he'd bought for his other helper who'd run away and said he'd quit because he's scared of the police. He lets them share a bag of rice and dry fish. Roberto needs another helper but he doesn't want to hire his cousin. Jun's arm doesn't seem to be a problem but all he offers Jun is food, the cart to sleep in and money if there's a profit. Things have to be paid first. He buys Jun a Coco-Cola from a sari-sari nearby to drink with the food. There is some argument about Bongie being included, but Jun insists. Afterwards Roberto mentions that his little helper may have to go to school soon.
At first it seems like exhausting work, picking, sorting stuff out of the piles people dump on the street or wherever, stuff in alleys and sometimes stuff they're not sure is discarded. And there's a few places where money can be made by even buying scrap. There's good prices for some kinds of cardboard and Roberto wants to make money. That's why he doesn't want his relatives involved because they'd take everything. Jun and Bongie work hard for Roberto. There is always enough money for rice and they grow stronger. It's a hard life but there are lots of good times like coming back from Smoky Mountain just before sunrise and they are lying on the bottom of the empty pushcart looking at the stars as Roberto pushes them. When it's cold he covers them with cardboard to keep them warm and finds space beside them to sleep. They wake up in the afternoon near Malate Church and play in the square before they start work. They prosper with Roberto. After a week he buys Jun an eyepatch and with a handkerchief tied over his head he looks rather like pirate. At times he pretends the pushcart is a ship and once he rams it into another pushcart. He doesn't mind the dirt as it obscures his deformity. They help Roberto make a new pushcart with better wheels and he sells the old one to his cousin. He promises Jun that he'll help him get his own cart in exchange for a share of the profits.
But then one day two policemen come to take Roberto away, they say he stole cardboard and bottles. Jun pleads and offers them all they have. They take it, it's not enough, they want five hundred pesos. Desperately Jun says he can get more maybe. They give him ten minutes to bring back at least a hundred. He wonders if he and Bongie could rob one of the little sari-sari stores. They'd have to go through the back door because of the grill at the front. But the woman inside looks pretty tough and simply asks them what they want. Jun tells his story in tears. She gives him ten pesos. The policemen tell them to try again but when they return Roberto's gone. They can't find Roberto at the precinct station and police say they have no record of him. The cousin takes the pushcart, and nobody ever sees Roberto again. Bongie is almost positive they weren't real police, something to do with the kind of guns they had.
Late one lazy afternoon the three of them are sniffing poly down on the boulevard watching all the ships at anchor, each lost in his own reveries. Jun imagines he's sailing away to America or Switzerland where Mario an older mabini boy went for a holiday with his foreigner friend. There was all this snow in the picture he saw. Suddenly two tanods are standing over them. Bongie gets away but the tanods grab Jun who can't run as fast and then Rollet who tries to yank him free. They are dragged back to the barangay outpost in the lane behind the small plaza where they placed in the lockup with wooden bars on the door and window. Capitan Banidoso is sitting at his desk, wearing a red shirt, jodhpurs and high black riding boots. He is quite drunk. He slowly disengages himself from the juvenile girl clinging to him, puts on his peaked hat, comes over and asks what the boys have. Rollet's only got four pesos left out of his twenty and with the two that Jun has, that's not enough. He couldn't buy a pack of locally made Marlboroughs for that. The capitan doesn't like solvent sniffers, it's bad for the brain he claims.
Banidoso wants sixty pesos, enough for another bottle of rum and a short time room to screw the girl. Then he remembers the tanods who brought them in, and insists on a hundred. He takes a hefty split bamboo cane from behind the filing box and lays it across his desk. Rollet goes to the cell window and calls a boy he knows over and explains. He promises he'll be back in ten minutes with the money. Another boy passing by says he'll go ask the tourists at the corner, they usually bail boys out, especially the ones they like. But after twenty minutes neither boy returns and no foreigner shows up. The capitan is disappointed, not even forty pesos he complains. He's promised the girl a good time and there's no more rum left. He announces loudly they have had their chance. He has been patient, very patient. His girl friend is listening to him intently, he pauses, calls in the two tanods standing nearby and repeats his sermon on the evils of sniffing nail polish remover, his men are listening too. He repeats how he's been patient, very patient for those who missed it the first time, and that the time for decisions, hard decisions has arrived. A tanod is ordered to bring Rollet before him.
The capitan takes the cane and flourishes it, screams at Rollet and strikes him repeatedly on the shoulders, back and legs. He's mostly demonstrating his power and showing off his form so his blows are not particularly hard or vicious. Rollet cooperates by pretending more pain than he feels. At his turn Jun presents his deformed side, which has fewer pain sensitive nerves, but the capitan soon loses interest in beating him and he gets off lightly.
They are released. Rollet's left shoulder is sore and he'll have bruise marks for days, but it's nothing to take seriously and they burst out laughing as soon as they are out of earshot. They return to the boulevard and Jun finds the rest of the bottle of solvent where he'd stashed it before the tanods came. There's about a third left. He still has his rag in his pocket and pours some on and inhales. Rollet takes his turn. Jun loves Rollet. He is so perfect. He is beautiful like the leaf of a breadfruit tree is beautiful. The leaf is beautiful because it has a shape of shapes and thus is more than it is because it is both unique and ordinary. It makes sense to him. He wishes he were perfect, beautiful and ordinary too and their bodies were like fluid gold and they could play together in some cheerful eternity. Jun loves Rollet as a privileged few love God. He will protect Rollet with the power of his moon eye. To serve Rollet with his moon eye somehow makes all the suffering of his life meaningful. Rollet advances, liberates the world, all becomes fresh and clean and unblemished, and Jun is whole again.
Jun likes it when the evangelists come to the plaza. They're much more interesting to listen to than the politicians he's seen. Nobody else talks about things like God, Jesus, Heaven, sin and all those religion things. It makes him think about these things too and he wishes he could understand what the evangelists say better. He thinks the Christians have some good ideas and it would be very nice if they were true. He would like to be rich and have lots of money and go to Heaven after. He especially likes it when everybody sings together, the music's not like what you hear on juke boxes or outside bars. When Bongie tells him evangelists are coming that evening they split on a bottle of poly and get high. There are about ten men in pale suits and maybe more women in pastel dresses and they all wear ties. One must be American, Jun believes, because she's so pale. But she is not beautiful. When the singing starts they hop down from their perch on the wall and begin dancing in the recessed corner of the plaza. Jun likes the music because it's nice for his dipsy dancing, not too fast. He is very high on solvent, his deformities are forgotten and he feels good. He feels he's balleting like he's seen on TV. Bongie leads as they rythymically gyrate over and dance in front of the pastor. The pastor and assembled Christians try their best to ignore them. Then Bongie does something Jun's only seen him do in public, he pulls out his little titi and plays with it while he dances. Only a few spectators are amused. Jun hesitates to follow and then Edgardo quickly grabs Bongie and carries him to the outpost. Unfortunately Capitan Banidoso is not drunk and gives the mute a good thrashing with the cane. Bongie is sobbing at the end and they are both banned from the plaza. For a few days they sleep around Malate Church and on Roxas Boulevard where they don't feel as safe. Then Rollet finds out that Edgardo will let them come back.
Jun is coming back from bathing in the bay when he notices a tabloid headline, 'SPARROWS TARGET CORRUPT COPS' He reads that the NPA urban hit squad has gunned down two Metrocom officers near Paco Market where he occasionally goes. They claim the police had been extorting money from the local vendors. June wonders if maybe his father is a Sparrow. The idea thrills him. He can think of a few cops he'd like to see gunned down. "AhAhAhAhAhAhAhAh", he sounds out machine gun fire and slaughters a squad of Metrocom police. Somehow Colonel Makamatay is in town, perhaps he is. That's him coming down the street in that white police jeep. "AhAhAhAhAhAhAh" Unfortunately it does not careen off to the side and explode in flames. But what about his father? Jun continues on his way.
A few days later Rollet meets a nice Italian and ends up with eighty pesos. He decides to go home to Para(aque to see his family, a couple of days maybe, and Jun misses him right away. And Bongie goes off with some deaf mutes he met on the corner. It's late when Jun removes his sheet of corrugated cardboard from its hiding place and lies down in his niche behind the breadfruit tree. He finds a few drops left in the bottle of poly he'd done with Bongie, Lyndon and Eleanor earlier. He finds a tiny piece of rag in his pockets. He inhales. Few people remain in the plaza and most are already asleep. He listens to the muted sounds and thumping beat of the disco across the street. He inhales. He feels good, the music gives a beat, a pulse to life, images of Rollet crop up and his good hand swirls around his titi and he experiences weird moments of bliss. Later Bongie comes, someone's stolen his cardboard and he lies down beside Jun who welcomes his warmth. Jun cannot sleep and finds a butt he didn't want to smoke but. He thinks of Rollet and how it was almost like he loved him before they met.
After Roberto disappears he and Bongie have nothing, one plastic bag easily holds their possessions. They try to find jobs around Smoky mountain with some of the Visayan speaking dealers but it seems you have to be related. They mostly sleep in and around the square in front of Malate Church feeling safer there because they know a few people. A tiny street restaurant near Remedios
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